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The Assessment day

The big day arrived and I was up at 06:00 and left my house by 06:15 to get to Rockingham (had to miss the traffic!). I arrived at the circuit, ready for action, and had decided that the best tactic was not to push / try and show that I had an idea of what I was doing, but to listen to everything and wait for them to say what they wanted and do this! We were introduced to the competition, and instantly it was obvious they weren’t trying to be friendly and have fun, this was serious and the organisers were trying to create pressure. I ignored this as the only pressure I had was the pressure I had put on myself.

Step 1: Mini-Cooper S on a wet Rockingham National Circuit.

After a safety briefing and an overview of the day we were set to drive in a Mini Cooper-S on the national circuit for a few laps to be assessed. I was first up and this was quite awkward as I’d never driven the Cooper-S or the circuit before and it was wet, and I really didn’t want to make ANY mistakes, so I decided to drive at 80% on decent lines, but short shifting and leaving plenty in the braking areas. I didn’t want to come across as someone who was going to be reckless, but didn’t want to seem slow. I think the end result was that it was like I was some 70 year old racing driver, and I really don’t think I made any kind of positive impression, with my speed, but perhaps with the consistency and lines.

Step 2: V8 Supercar on a dry Rockingham National Circuit.

Mark Gibbons having his driving technique assessed in a V8 supercar

I was really looking forward to trying the V8 supercar as I’m a big fan of the race series in Australia, and watch every race on TV (I also have all the end of year season review DVDs). I knew I had to step it up for the V8, fortunately I was last for this activity, and I had the benefit of seeing (and hearing) what all my competitors had been doing. It was obvious to me that 2 other drivers had pace / skill, so I came up with a plan. I watched these guys, saw where the instructors were standing and noted their braking points and acceleration points at these parts of the circuit. When it was my go in the car I knew I had to be “braver” than those other guys at those points. I attacked the track and started to feel pretty confident in the car quite quickly and could have driven a lot longer, however I was also massively disappointed with the car, it wasn’t a patch on the excellent V8’s from Australia. It was effectively a group-N spec overweight slow car! I could provoke a decent slide, however, I never felt like I was taming a beast! Despite this when one of my other competitors came out of the car he was jumping around like a bunny and raving about the car, and this had made a very positive effect on the judges, so when I got out the car I pretended that I was impressed and loved driving it, but I was really, really disappointed with it, so I was acting!

Step 3: V1Championship Simulator

Next up was the V1 simulators with some lunch! I was really confident of this aspect, and quickly offered to drive first. This was a big mistake! What I thought would be some laps around the circuit quickly turned into something far more interesting. V1Championship have a great basic idea that it is the racing driver’s brain that controls and performs in the car and they set about using a simulator to bench mark our brains. So instead of being presented with a car and circuit, I was presented with a crosshair and I had to follow a chequered flag around the screen in a series of random patterns, using just the wheel and pedals, this type of coordination test was actually far trickier than it sounds, and took a while to get to grips with. This was followed by some memory tests, I was poor at these, I was actually losing concentration just watching the tests. This is an area that I am improving on, and using my DS brain training to improve! The last part that we did (there were other tests) was 5 laps of a made up circuit. This circuit was full of false reference, for example all the track signs would point to an upcoming right hander, and then it would be a left hander! After each brow of the hill the track would change direction exactly as you wouldn’t expect. To drive the circuit you had to work out which reference was false and create your own that was accurate, this was an interesting challenge. I had a long chat with the guys about this, and they were very interesting. I believe, as they do, that the most important aspect of any race car is the driver and their mental and physical health as this dictates the overall performance.

Step 4: Alfa on the Skid Pan!

We all travelled to the centre of the circuit, to the circuit’s skid pan. COOL! We were put in some of the latest Alfa 147 equivalents (I forget the name) and challenged us to drive the car around a constant radius bend while the instructor would throw the handbrake on randomly! This was an enjoyable experience, and once I remembered the techniques for front wheel drive cars (instead of rear wheel drive) I was able to master the technique (ish). This simple task was followed by a much more interesting task of driving over a kick-plate that would throw the car up in the air and to one side at the back, thus unsettling the car in a random way. In the car this seemed quite easy, from the outside watching others, it clearly wasn’t and I obviously just fluked it!

Step 5: Down to the last 3!

After the previous tests, it had become obvious to the judges that there were 3 of us that all had the potential to win the competition. So the organisers decided to call a day on proceedings to the other competitors, while the 3 of us would be tested further. We were to do 15-20 minute sessions in a road going version of the Renault Clio used in the championship alongside an instructor on the version of the circuit that we would be racing on if we won! I was first and I was happy with how the session went, I was starting to feel the car and pushing reasonably hard. What I hadn’t realised is that Stefan Hodgetts (instructor) had done a base time for us to all aim at, when I was In the car he was saying I was only 2 seconds off. ..I was really annoyed as this is miles off the pace and I wasn’t happy! The other 2 drivers had a go, and one of them made a mistake and slid from the circuit, he’s day over, pretty much, the other guy was getting quicker and quicker and I was watching and starting to get worried, but when I saw the guys face when he got out of the car I knew I’d done better than him. ..but then just when I was starting to feel comfortable, Chris Hodgetts decided that he wanted to give the other guy who had gone off another chance, (in hindsight I think this was cover to get me in the car alongside Danny Buxton) I was really annoyed. ..So I drove faster / harder and after the session I felt like I’d given it my best shot.

The Results:

Mark Gibbons wins Rockingham Dream Drive competition

We all went back to the racing school pit garage to discuss the day and find out the final results! I was confident by this time and was just waiting for my name to be called! It was ! I won!

Instantly I was thinking.. ..do I get new tyres? When can I test the car? Which team is running the car? Do you have to use the clutch with the gearbox? ..and then I had to make a speech about winning and I nearly cried I was so happy to have finally got half a break, I can’t even remember what I said! I then had a series of photo shoots and interviews so that the competition / winner could be presented to the press. The other competitors were very humble and offered me congratulations, the guy who came second (Andy) was genuinely gutted to be runner-up, and I felt for him, but I was very happy to have won.

Other Articles about the competition

RaceTech Magazine
The Checkered Flag
Air Asia Renault Press Release
BTCC Crazy
The Grid

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